New Network Targeting African Americans to Launch Next Year

5:00 AM PST 10/31/2011 by Alex Ben Block
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Edwin Avent

Soul of the South Network, keying in on the southern U.S., plans to be in at least 50 markets -- including Memphis and Atlanta -- by launch.

An ambitious new TV broadcast service targeting African Americans in the southern United States called the Soul of the South Network plans to spend at least $10 million by early next year to launch in at least 50 markets offering entertainment, sports, news and cultural programming.

Among cities where SSN plans to be available at launch are Atlanta, Memphis, Monroe (Louisiana), Orlando and Augusta (Georgia). It also plans to have affiliates in northern cities such as Chicago, Philadelphia, Baltimore and Detroit with large African-American population segments.

Organizers are said to be negotiating deals for studio library programming that features African Americans in a southern setting, as well as rights to regional and local sports such as football, basketball and baseball games from black colleges, universities and high schools in their key markets, according to Edwin Avent, chairman of the new network’s parent company, SSN Media Group.

Advent recently made a deal to sell his Heart & Soul Magazine publishing company based in Baltimore and has spent months negotiating acquisitions of stations, setting up affiliate relationships and partnering with technology companies. "South of the South Network will embody the heart of African-American culture,” said Advent, “and if we’re as successful as I believe we’ll be, viewers will turn to our network in record numbers because they’ll finally feel at home.”

The 2010 Census revealed that 57 percent of all African Americans live in the South, the highest percentage in more than 50 years. The black population of the South grew at the fastest rate since 1910 and the South was also the fastest-growing region in the country overall, seeing its population increase 14 percent. Atlanta replaced Chicago as the city with the second highest number of African-American residents after New York.

“We believe we will appeal to a mature thinking Southern audience who not only want to be entertained,” added Advent, “but also informed and kept abreast of the latest happenings in business, politics and culture. We’ll provide programming for millions of African-Americans whose voices are largely unheard. “

SSN also plans to do some original programming such as a hip hop music show, a program featuring family reunions and Drum Majors, about music at mostly black colleges, which they call their Dancing With the Stars.

Their first two shows will be Radioface, an unscripted comedy hosted by regional radio personalities; and Southern Soul Stories, which according to an announcement “explores the lives of African-American icons of the South and the events, large and small, that shaped the region.”

They also promise to air five hours a day of news, mostly originating from bureaus in southern state capitals such as Tallahassee, Florida; Jackson, Mississippi; Montgomery, Alabama; and Charlotte, North Carolina. SSN has contracted with INN News of Davenport, Iowa to support the news operations.   

SSN is expected to own or control at least a dozen stations by launch, with others coming on board as affiliates. Those include full broadcast stations (who also have cable carriage), lower power stations and digital spectrum stations (where an existing station offers additional digital signals). The service will also be online and by the end of next year expects to offer a mobile phone distribution platform.

Along with Avent, those creating the new venture are co-founders Carl McCaskill, who serves as exec vp of business development and branding; and Larry Morton (who founded the Retro Network) and will now be president of the network.

SSN will be headquartered in Little Rock, Arkansas based at the studio and production facilities of KKYK-TV, a TV full power TV station formerly part of Equity Broadcasting before it went bankrupt in 2008. SNN estimates it will have at least 100 employees by the time of the launch.

Other SSN executive include Jeff Burns Jr., formerly of Johnson Publishing, who heads marketing; Donald “Chip” Harwood of Princeton Media; and Ed Baruch of Allied Media, who is a consultant on distribution.

The new venture has acquired assets from Equity, including the C.A.S.H. system, which stands for Central Automated Satellite Headend. This allows them to program stations anywhere in the country from a single hub in Little Rock. SSN will sell local advertising in each market, and have news bureaus in many of them.

However, the signal will not actually be fed by satellite. Instead, it will use a computer server “cloud based system” to deliver its programming 24 hours a day.  Fusion Services of Davenport, Iowa, led by Jeff Lyle, handles master control and signal delivery.

SSN, which plans to showcase its line up at the broadcast upfront next May, said it will have a slate of charter advertisers by launch including airlines, automobile and healthcare companies, according to Frank Mercado, former head of the African Heritage Network (a TV syndicator). “We will get some of that and regional dollars by carving out a sub-sector that has different buying and behavioral patterns which will allow advertisers to focus their product marketing better. There will be no other network like ours.”

There are, however, other networks. Besides the BET network owned by Viacom, which is on cable TV, Bounce TV launched in September in major U.S. cities with a mix of movies, faith based shows and original programming. Its founders include Martin Luthur King III and former Atlanta mayor Andrew Young. It airs mostly on digital channels.

MGM is also trying to launch KIN TV, to join its digital channel offerings such as THIS TV. MGM’s partner in the venture is reportedly Lee Gaither, a media consultant who helped launch the TV One cable network.

Email: Alex.Benblock@thr.com

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